This is a masterclass in applying disruption theory and lean startup principles to Waymo and the self-driving car industry as a whole:
Everyone in Silicon Valley knows the story of Xerox inventing the modern personal computer in the 1970s and then failing to commercialize it effectively. Yet one of Silicon Valley's most successful companies, Google's Alphabet, appears to be repeating Xerox's mistake with its self-driving car program.
Xerox launched its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1970. By 1975, its researchers had invented a personal computer with a graphical user interface that was almost a decade ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the commercial version of this technology wasn't released until 1981 and proved to be an expensive flop. Two much younger companies—Apple and Microsoft—co-opted many of Xerox's ideas and wound up dominating the industry.
Google's self-driving car program, created in 2009, appears to be on a similar trajectory. By October 2015, Google was confident enough in its technology to put a blind man into one of its cars for a solo ride in Austin, Texas.
But much like Xerox 40 years earlier, Google has struggled to bring its technology to market. The project was rechristened Waymo in 2016, and Waymo was supposed to launch a commercial driverless service by the end of 2018. But the service Waymo launched in December was not driverless and barely commercial. It had a safety driver in every vehicle, and it has only been made available to a few hundred customers.
Today, a number of self-driving startups are aiming to do to Waymo what Apple did to Xerox years ago. Nuro is a driverless delivery startup that announced Monday that it raised $940 million in venture capital. Another, called Voyage, is testing a self-driving taxi service in one of the nation's largest retirement communities.
Right now, these companies' self-driving services aren't as sophisticated as Waymo's. Their vehicles have top speeds of 25 miles per hour. But Apple started out making under-powered products, too, then it gradually worked its way up-market, ultimately eclipsing Xerox. If Waymo isn't strategic, companies like Nuro and Voyage could do the same thing to the pioneering self-driving company.